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Mental Exhaustion after a Mental Marathon

Waiting for Little Feet had a post yesterday about how physically exhausted she is at the end of the day; how prior to infertility she had the energy to workout and go out with friends, and now she drags herself into bed early, too spent to do the things that used to be a given.

Infertility (and loss, the adoption process, surrogacy, learning to live child-free, treatments, etc) is like running a marathon every single day.  Your body isn’t running 26.2 miles, but your brain is.  Dealing with daily life is like a nice mental jog — it will leave you a bit tired but overall refreshed.  Our brains like a workout, hence why people bored at work look for things to occupy themselves.  Dealing with infertility though — with its sprints of what ifs and its uphill trudges and its constant loop of the same emotional terrain like a treadmill — is like running 13.1 miles to work, jogging while at work (or whatever your daily life routine is), and then running 13.1 miles home.  Every day.

Hence why you’re exhausted.

Infertility isn’t unique — I think any crisis does this — but it’s long-term.  You’re dealing with it day-after-day (and in some cases, year-after-year).  And you’re on-guard; you’re alert — even when you’re not alert, you’re alert.  You are paying attention to every twinge or every time the phone rings or every date on the calendar.

Some people can compartmentalize and set infertility aside for a few hours.  And sometimes setting infertility aside happens inadvertently because you’re ensconced in dealing with something else.  Or you engage in daily meditation to cope (seriously, the reason why meditation works is that you’re allowing your brain to stop running for an hour.  Maybe it’s only walking or maybe it’s resting back in a hammock before it needs to get up again, but at least it isn’t running).

But for many people, infertility is like having your brain running for every moment that you’re awake.  And it’s exhausting.


1 missohkay { 03.28.12 at 11:26 am }

I really like this analogy. It’s a different analogy than one I wrote recently but along the same path… I said our journey to baby #1 was a marathon without any mile-markers… because you might feel like you’ve been running forever already but you don’t really know whether you’re at mile 10 or mile 20. (Maybe if you’re athletic you’d know the difference but anything over 3 miles is all torture to me!)

2 a { 03.28.12 at 11:32 am }

I am an excellent compartmentalizer. I think it’s a defense mechanism, because if my brain were allowed to wander on its own, I would probably have gone crazy loooooong ago.

3 Jendeis { 03.28.12 at 11:42 am }

An excellent analogy. I feel like my whole life is like this: “you’re on-guard; you’re alert — even when you’re not alert, you’re alert.” There are random moments when I catch myself not worrying and it’s so weird and unusual. Yes, I do keep the economy going with my therapist bills. 🙂

4 CrossingtheAcheron { 03.28.12 at 11:48 am }

Yes, yes – exactly this! My therapist reminded me that this is trauma, and trauma rewires your brain to be constantly on guard for new threats. It’s physically exhausting, but also grinds you into a fine powder mentally and emotionally. No wonder all you want to do is curl up and rest.

5 k { 03.28.12 at 11:53 am }

OMG yes. I have never been as exhausted as I have been these past two years ttc again.

and today. well. today may be the beginning of the end. and i just want to run away and sleep for a week.

6 loribeth { 03.28.12 at 12:29 pm }

As I once posted — people sometimes look askance if/when I mention being tired — why would *I* be tired?? I don’t have kids!!

I think everyone is busy and tired these days. It’s all “legitimate.” It’s not a competition.

But — you have a great point. I am 14 years past stillbirth & almost 11 after stopping treatment — & I’m still exhausted, lol. Maybe part of it is just the passage of years/getting older — but I do feel like I’ve never quite “recovered” my energy/focus/ambition since that period of my life. And I still find it a huge drain of my mental, physical & emotional energy to do something like going to a baby shower (or even a wedding shower, where there are groups of women & the conversation eventually turns to pregnancy & children). I don’t think other women find those events so exhausting, at least not in the same way I do.

7 serenity { 03.28.12 at 12:40 pm }

I just sent this to my sister, who was complaining about how guilty she felt that she just couldn’t drag herself out of bed this weekend after her BFN last week. This is EXACTLY it. Yes.

8 Liana { 03.28.12 at 12:47 pm }

Yes. Yes. And the comment about trauma? Yes yes yes.

Seeing it put so well makes me want to think there’s something to be done about it. Mostly I’m having that momentary refreshing feeling one gets from being validated.

9 S.I.F. { 03.28.12 at 12:53 pm }

I remember being in the middle of my IF exhaustion and feeling like I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I had always been social and active and now, all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed by myself never talking to anyone. I just didn’t have the energy for anything more than that. It was exhausting, and it felt like it went on for SO long. Even now, over a year after my last failed cycle, I feel like I am STILL in the rebuilding phase. It is definitely better every day, but that exhaustion stays with you. I had a naturopath tell me just 6 months ago that my adrenals were still completely zapped from the whole process. It’s crazy what a huge effect it really does have on your overall energy, and even crazier how long it lingers.

10 crystal theresa { 03.28.12 at 1:21 pm }

yes. this is a perfect analogy. the charting, the monitors, the pee sticks, the timing of medications, the TV ultrasounds, the labels, the side effects of the medications, the 2ww, the researching and trying everything from western to eastern to old wives tales. and then the losses. i’m exhausted just thinking about the past 3 1/2 years of TTC’ing and losing three babies and the fear that I won’t get to keep baby number 4… and I know that 3 1/2 years, isn’t long at all compared to how long other women have been trying to take a baby home (via adoption, meds, IUI, IVF, surrogacy) or adjust to living child-free.

11 gwinne { 03.28.12 at 2:10 pm }

Wow. This post came at exactly the right time. I just returned to the town where my fertility clinic was (is) for the first time since Tiny Boy’s birth. And just being on that highway again my brain started replaying the same endless loop of conversations about cycles and whether or not to do DE…even when it’s over, it just doesn’t stop.

12 JustHeather { 03.28.12 at 3:26 pm }

I had never thought about infertility or even other aspects of life like that! It is so fitting. Even right now in the midst of being pregnant, I just had a thought along this line on my way to work: How did I ever used to have time to go to the gym, hang out with friends more often and do many other things after work. These days I’m lucky to go food shopping OR cook OR some other random thing before being too exhausted to do anything but crawl into bed. Our brains truly are amazing and exhuasting!

13 Cristy { 03.28.12 at 3:40 pm }

Both you and HRF summarized this beautifully. Now, can we raise some money and put it on billboards around the world in time for NIAW?

14 Her Royal Fabulousness { 03.28.12 at 5:59 pm }

I heart you, Mel. Your shout-out and the support made my day.

I love the treadmill analogy. DH refers to it as “the hamster on the wheel, inside your brain” 😛

15 Kate { 03.28.12 at 8:33 pm }

Holy cow, everyone in my life needs to read this entry!! Once again you give clarity to my jumbled thoughts and what I’ve been trying to express for over 6 years now. And the thing is, even when you get that elusive kid through whatever means, the running doesn’t stop. The pain, the loss, the emotional toll still continues to add up, whether you want a second child or not. I try to tell my IRL people that infertility is a part of me forever, but they just don’t understand why I can’t “get over it”. I’m hoping after menopause it fades, but I don’t expect it to be gone even then. Some experiences are just too life altering to “get over”.

16 Jo { 03.28.12 at 9:03 pm }

Yes. Yes, that’s it. Exactly it.

17 Hope { 03.28.12 at 11:31 pm }

Yes, yes, yes. I’ve been feeling all week like my brain was going to explode from thinking too much. And this post describes exactly why. Thank you for putting it into words so well!

18 Gail { 03.29.12 at 8:53 am }

So true. And, unfortunately, you can’t “tag” someone to finish the race for you. It is an individual event and it is all up to you.

19 Michelle { 03.29.12 at 9:15 am }

You know I’ve always felt like I was not a true infertile. It’s true that my husband and I can’t conceive (I have endometriosis and he has azoospermia), but we never went down the path of IVF or any means of ART; it was just too expensive. We’ve been throwing around the idea of adoption, but we haven’t quite made the decision. Now that we are getting older, my future looks like it’s going to be childfree. With all that being said, I am still exhausted. All these years of wanting and knowing that I can’t have a child, the baby showers of friends who never wanted children and the baby showers of my nephews have made me tired. I am hoping for the day that the pain will lessen, but it’s been 10 years and I still feel it. I just wanted to say that this really explains how I feel. Thank you.

20 CAS { 03.29.12 at 1:58 pm }

This is the perfect analogy as I am a runner and I am have been in this infertility “race” for more than 2 years now! When my running teammates ask me what races I have signed up for this season, I say, ” I’m in the race to get Pregnant.” It has deffinatly been a “Marathon” experience! I’m ready to finish the race and cross the finish line with my medal (BABY)! I WILL be referencing this article on my Blog- it is perfect and I hope others are able to relate to the analogies.

21 Kate { 03.29.12 at 3:04 pm }

Wow. What a great post! And what a huge coincidence that I just happened upon it after coming over to your blog to copy a link for a post I’m working on today that is based on a similar infertility analogy (comparing the IF journey to that of a long distance hiker). I just finished reading “Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail)” and was floored by all of the similarities between her emotionally and physically painful journey and that of anyone who has been/is going through IF! I’m almost finished with my post… if it’s half decent when I finish, maybe I’ll enter it in the April Analogy Project. But I enjoyed reading this one, and feel completely understood and validated… all over again. Thanks!

22 Glitter&Rainbows { 03.30.12 at 2:22 am }

Yes! I am on a break right now, but only a physical one it seems. My mind can’t get away from it. My mind doesn’t know how to stop.

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